Throughout the past twenty-three days, I have had the luxury of visiting over seven different cities in Europe. Average that out, and I was in a different city about every third day for the past three weeks. And throughout those past twenty-three days, I have learned things that I would have never learned through any textbook, research paper, friend who visited XYZ city before me, or even travel guidebook. Hungarians love their goulash (a beef stew with tons of paprika), and even more so love ripping off tourists on their staple food, but Frommer’s never tells you that, does it? Or how about the fact that in Prague, 16-24 year olds will spend a casual Monday night during midterms at the club listening to Red Lights by Tiesto, just because its how they spend their evenings? It just isn’t possible to understand a city unless you visit it, and although I had heard this many a time before beginning my European travels for the semester, after about the fourth city, I was tired of traveling and didn’t even know what the purpose of visiting all of these new places was.
I had a conversation about this very topic with a friend named Julian while in Prague during this twenty-three day adventure as we stood on the Charles Bridge, overlooking the entire city and seeing our own reflection in the Vlatva River. Julian was a far more credible world traveler than myself, and furthermore, someone who has fallen into a state of wanderlust during his semester in Salamanca, Spain. We were both heading back from a five-story nightclub, and during our walk to the hostel, we stopped for a moment to enjoy the beautifully lit Prague Castle, illuminated by the Charles Bridge. Our tour guide earlier that morning mentioned the lights were all thanks to a British band that walked along the path with the Czech President in 2006 during their world tour concert. When they asked the President why this historical gem was not given more attention to the eye, the President responded that the country was in a state of economic crisis and could not afford any enhancements. The band members then decided to fund the project of putting lights all across the bridge and up to the Prague Castle. And now, every Czech citizen knows who The Beatles are…
The St. Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic on a Tuesday afternoon in mid-April.
Cool tidbit, but what did it do for me? Pretty much nothing, except be squeezed into this blog post by sheer matter of the fact that I get to write about whatever I feel like in this space, since well, it’s my own thoughts. I felt selfish in all honesty, seeing all of these incredible sights and taking some awesome Instagram pictures to show the world how much fun I was having frolicking around the European continent. Of course, it all looked so exciting, precisely being the reason why so many of my friends told me they were “so jealous of all the adventures!” or calling me “a world traveler”. It was all flattering, really, but spending all this money, seeing these new places, getting to know new cultures—what was the purpose of all of it?
When I finally confided in Julian, he gave me a quite generic response that I put aside immediately in my head. “It makes you a more cultured person,” was his take on the matter. “You get to see all of these things and erase some of the stereotypes you have. You learn so much about other cultures, and then when people ask you about them, you can explain it better because you’ve had hands-on experience, and then you can teach them about the lessons you learned in XYZ country.” Well that was all fine and well, but it still felt unfair. Unfair that I had the opportunity to go all around Europe and “be more cultured”, while the very people that had given me the opportunity to do all of this, my parents, didn’t have that chance. Not only did I feel selfish, but I also felt like my parents had to vicariously live through my own experiences abroad, thirty years after they made one brave journey to America and hoped that would be the way to give me all of this. Their efforts hadn’t gone to waste, but I knew they still wanted to one day be able to see the world for themselves, and for that lack thereof in their lives, I had no one to blame but myself.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the fact that I get to explore so many different cities, as well as be exposed to all of the cultures and people that Europe has to offer, but at the end of the day, I know this was also my parents’ dream. They never said it, and they never will, because for them, the chance for me to go to Berlin is like them going to Berlin, simply due to the fact that I am their daughter and they are so proud of me. Yet, I can’t help but go to a new country and think, “Wow, Mom would love being in this train right now and admire the German countryside” or “This is incredible. I bet Dad would love knowing that the Alhambra Palace traces its roots back to the Muslim empire of the 8th century.” Both my parents have worked extremely hard, and endured almost twenty-five years of physically straining labor together so that I could do something great like this, so much so that their own physical condition isn’t susceptible to traveling anymore. It’s ironic to be honest, and moreover, a debt that I will forever owe to them.
Saturday evening sunset over the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain during late-April.
So, on my way back from Seville, Spain today on the Ave, a high-speed train that can get up to 300 kilometers per hour and an interesting epithetical fact that only my dad would be so intrigued in knowing, I write this blog post as a tribute to my parents. To not only thank them for all the love, emotional support, words of encouragement, and sincere affection they have given me throughout this entire experience, but to finally have found a purpose for all of my travels—them. Why do I travel to so many different cities? To teach them about it, to get them to remember that the world is indeed a kind place, despite the fact that it has not been so to them. The lessons I’ve learned? They’re all things my parents already know, but just need to be reminded of, and since I never knew them to begin with, I have to travel to find them for myself and relay them to the people whom I love and care for the most.
Whenever a person visits you in your hometown or a place you are quite familiar with, it’s always your job to be a good host and show them the best sights, the coolest restaurants, and the most interesting facts to make them feel the most like a local possible. I want to do the same for my parents, but since I have deemed myself a nomad, well it’s now my job to travel the world and see all of my “hometown” to tell my parents what the coolest cities, the nicest people, and the best food is and where it comes from. It’s my job to host my parents in the world now, so I guess the purpose of traveling is to explore my hometown thoroughly enough to do a good job of his, if and when my parents can indeed travel one day. It’s a debt I am more than happy to pay back to my parents, because I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to figure out my hometown for myself. And so, this is why I travel, and I thank my parents for letting me do this every day, not because I love them but because I admire their selfless nature to leave the legacy of exploration to their youngest little girl and hope all goes well.